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The Five Great Mysteries of the Christian Faith

As I do the math, there are five great mysteries in theology:

1. Creation out of nothing (ex nihilo): How did God create being out of non-being? Being transcendent in relation to the universe (above all time, space, and matter), the reason for God’s being is necessary (hence why we often call him the “necessary being”), so his existence does not require a cause-and-effect answer. Yet where did he get the “stuff” to create all that there is? It could not have come from himself, as that would place him in our universe of time, space, and matter. Then we would just be looking for the really real God. The same is true if the “stuff” was outside himself. All that there is must have come from nothing as a rational and philosophical necessity. All other options are formally absurd. While creation out of nothing is not formally absurd, it is a great mystery or paradox.

2. Trinity: We believe in one God who eternally exists in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This would only be a formal contradiction if we said we believed that God was three Gods and one God or if we said we believed he was three persons and one person. But to say that the Trinity is one God in three persons is not a formal contradiction, but a mystery.

3. Hypostatic Union: We believe that the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, is fully God and fully man (at least since the time that he became man). We don’t believe that he is fifty percent God and fifty percent man, or even ninety/ten. Christ is everything that God is and has eternally, even in the incarnation, shared in the full divinity of the one God, yet he is everything that man is forevermore. Whereas the Trinity is one nature with three persons, Christ is one person with two natures. This is indeed a mystery, but has no earmarks of a formal contradiction.

4. Scripture: We believe the Bible is fully inspired of God, yet fully written by man. God did not put the writers of Scripture in a trance and direct their hand in the writing of Scripture (often referred to as “mechanical dictation”), but he fully utilized their personality, circumstances, writing style, and mood in producing the Scriptures. Another way to put it is that the Scriptures are the product of the will of God and the will of man. Mystery? Yes. Contradiction? No.

5. Human Responsibility and Divine Sovereignty: God is sovereign over the entire world, bringing about his will in everything. He does as he pleases in heaven and on earth. There is not a maverick molecule in all the universe. He even sovereignly predestined people to salvation before they were born, while passing over all others. Yet man is fully responsible for all his actions. There will be a judgment of the unrighteous one day in which God will hold people responsible for their rejection of Christ. How could there be a judgment if people were doing only what they were predestined to do? I don’t know. But I do know that they are truly responsible for their actions and rejection of God.  This is a mystery beyond any human ability to solve, yet not a contradiction.

Are there more than these? Most certainly. But in theology, these are the biggies. These are the big pieces of our puzzle that are missing. Why are they missing? I don’t know. I just know they are. God chose not to tell us. I will ask him when I get there. But I will try to trust him until then. After all, don’t I have to borrow from his morality in order to judge him for leaving the puzzle unsolved? I think I will pass on that.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with trying to solve these, and I think everyone needs to get into the ring and wrestle with these issues. But church history has seen that whenever these are “solved,” heresy or serious aberration is always the result. Unfortunately, many continue to opt not to let these mysteries remain. Often with good intentions, Christians have found “solutions.” But these “solutions” normally have to distort God’s revelation to do so. Preferring a settled logical system, many find pieces of another puzzle and force it to fit. The result is an obscured and inaccurate, sometimes even damnable, view of God.

Where God has left the puzzle pieces out, so should we. He knows what he is doing. Let’s just thank him for the pieces we do have and worship, for now, in the white mysterious area. Hand firmly over mouth is a good theological posture sometimes.

Let’s see if I can get you a verse here . . . Got it!

Deut. 29:29
“The secret things [missing puzzle pieces] belong to the Lord, but the things revealed [present puzzle pieces] belong to us and our children forever.”

Oh, and one more (my default NT go-to verse in these matters):

1 Cor. 13:12
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Keep the original design. It’s good stuff.

144 Responses to “The Five Great Mysteries of the Christian Faith”

  1. I agree with Clark Coleman’s comments.

    If you are to refute Molinism and to extol Calvinism you need to support your case by demonstrating that:
    1. Calvinism is more faithful to scripture than Molinism, and
    2. Calvinism is not logically incoherent

  2. I prefer myself the presupposition of Holy Scripture, with both the Ecumenical Councils & Creeds, and surely both the Irish Articles 1615, with the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles! Yep, I am a “presupper”, Van Til, John Frame, etc.! And yet, as an Anglican I am “FV” friendly! ;)

  3. Would you care to elaborate more specifically in defence of Calvinism over Molinism?

  4. And too btw, I am with Luther & Calvin, an Augustinian! (And even Aquinas was something of an Augustinian, as he said himself.) It is here too that we must back-up into St. Paul’s Jewish Hellenism and Greco-Roman thought! :)

  5. @fishing: We really cannot do that justice on an open blog! Note, I was raised Irish Roman Catholic (Dublin, 50’s and 60’s), my first degree way back when was a BA in Philosophy (Catholic College). And I spent a few years as a an English Benedictine (R.C.), just before I left and went to Anglicanism. But, yes, I had (many years ago now), an Pauline/Augustinian conversion. And that over the many years now, has settled. Though I do appreciate the EO, and even somewhat follow their Christology and doctrine (the regal & monarchy of the Father) in the Trinity of God. Indeed so much mystery, and things that closely touch each other, and yet always a GOD Who is Totally Other & Immutable! Note, I like Barth too! (Though not a Barthian) :)

  6. Will some of you here indulge my ignorance, in my attempt to end it? Thanks in advance.

    I do not argue that God has middle knowledge; I argue that what God laid out completely in creation and what we do while exercising free will within time are the same thing.

    The sticking point in free will is time. If we exist and chose our path outside of time, there is no contradiction in our universe between God’s sovereignty and free will; one defines the other.

    One of CS Lewis’ characters argued something like this at the end of The Great Divorce. I think he was correct.

    Does this make me a Molinist? Or is my position something else? And would my current position possibly fit some historical heresy, or (better) some position taken by an orthodox theologian that is not currently in the mainstream?

    Again, thank you for indulging my ignorance.

  7. Darryl wrote:

    I once saw God as a loving Father but the thought of him just abandoning most of his creation when they need him most was just the most horrible thing I could ever imagine… I came to the conclusion that the rules of the Bible were a set of “dance steps” that if performed to the best of our limited abilities could get us into heaven.

    And yet, Jesus and the apostles argue against precisely the conclusions you have reached. God abandons nobody if Jesus is to be believed, and the “rules” of the Bible are not rules at all if Paul is to be believed.

    On the other hand, I certainly understand your discomfort with the idea that God actually abandons the vast bulk of humanity to its fate, and saves only a handful. That is what makes Calvinism completely unacceptable.

    A much better way to resolve the difficulty is to grasp that God simply grants to every man what that man chooses. God presents Himself to everybody — the whole of creation declares His glory to us, that is the very point of creation — and we either embrace or reject Him. He continues to show Himself and His mercy to those who reject Him (Matthew 5:45) until they have chosen to place themselves literally and completely beyond His reach, at which point He sadly consigns them to the thing they have chosen — a world without God. And that, Darryl, is hell. It doesn’t take fire and brimstone to make the absence of God into hell, as any ordinary alcoholic can tell you.

    For the record, Darryl, I don’t think you are damned by your errors here. I think you are searching honestly, and all eventually find that for which they truly seek. I trust that your gracious Father, who has not abandoned you or anyone else, will reveal Himself to you completely as you commit yourself to Him. only, do not imagine that your works can earn your way into His goodness; nothing can do that. He accepts you because He loves you, and for no other reason.

  8. Sinful humanity does not really have “free will”, as ‘responsible will’, there is a big difference! This issue all depends upon how one sees natural so-called theology? Myself, there has been in the First Adam, a grave failure of nature, noting St. Paul’s Romans 1:18-32, and yet Romans chapter Two & Three follows, and “man” alone still fails (falls short) (3:22). Perhaps also Paul’s chapters in 1 Cor. 1 & 2, will help us out here…1: 23-31 / chapter 2: 14, etc. We are always confronted by OUR sin and failure, as ‘In Adam’ (Adamic), and only the Last Adam can set us Free! (Rom. 5-6)

    Again, grand “mystery”, as GOD In Christ! But we don’t start with the Birth of Christ really, as looking back from the Resurrection-Ascension, to the birth and incarnation, and see the Death of Christ – Himself: The Lamb of God! The value of the Atonement is Jesus Christ Himself, and now Risen!

  9. Suppose that we allow the scientific disciplines to help enlighten our understandings of the Bible and theology, rather than relying on prescientific philosophies to guide us, as they have been proven wrong time and again in laboratoroes. Might not this approach resolve some of these supposed mysteries, even as it left others unfathomable?

    I would allow science to show me what is unique about humans that allows them to be called “in the image of God”, there is a known reason after all. I would allow violation of this aspect of humanity to count as Sin, after all modern mental science states that such as act leads to our sense of alienation from self and others. I would then progress through many of the other “mysteries” and find them not so mysterious, even as other mysteries remained unknowable. But then to do that means to abandon most, if not all, historical theology.

  10. Bill Mayor writes:

    Suppose that we allow the scientific disciplines to help enlighten our understandings of the Bible and theology, rather than relying on prescientific philosophies to guide us, as they have been proven wrong time and again in laboratoroes.

    If you think science can say word 1 about what is right, about the nature of God, or about the sin of man, you clearly understand nothing of either science or theology.

    What you call “science” was born as a child and aide to theology, and can only remain helpful if it remains in its proper place. The attempt to elevate science above theology can only result in the distortion of both.

    In fact, you need to take a lesson from Francis Schaeffer here. Man, himself, is not part of the machine of nature; only his body belongs there. His soul is beyond it, and so is reason. The behavioral “sciences” of the 20th century were concocted on the premise that the soul of man is actually part of the machine, not outside it; and the failure of those “sciences” to determine laws of human behavior comparable to the laws of physics that govern the physical world is a consequence of that error. If you think science can solve the mysteries of the human heart, you are making the same error, and will experience the same failure.

    Why repeat an experiment that we’ve already seen fail, at enormous cost?

  11. Darryl says:
    I came to the conclusion that the rules of the Bible were a set of “dance steps” that if performed to the best of our limited abilities could get us into heaven.

    Darryl —

    A sticky problem, isn’t it!? :) I think that Philwynk has offered some good insights here. Save one… I think you will find that Calvinism has a wide range of proponents that answer these sticky issues in ways that differ from one another.

    I think the core issue that your “position” needs to deal with is the grace of God. If you view God’s election as merely an obedience to the rules of God, “a dance we perform to the best of our abilities”, then you have basically a “works-based” gospel message no different than the standard Roman Catholic position or Mormon position. That doesn’t necessarily make it wrong, but it doesn’t follow Paul very well. :)

    I love the fact that you are running through these categories of thought and presenting them here. It is always good to consider what impact election or God’s grace has on us here and now.
    JJ

  12. Amen there philwynk, I am an old churchmen! And I still do remember Schaffer! (We are both historic pre-mill. ;)

    Btw, my father was a scientist and physicist. An Irish moderate R. Catholic (RIP).

  13. Philwynk —

    You wrote:
    I argue that what God laid out completely in creation and what we do while exercising free will within time are the same thing.
    The sticking point in free will is time.

    Interesting. And I see why you think that Calvinism is not a system that answers these questions. :)

    Certainly some Calvinist will point out that your position robs God of His sovereignty. That it makes God’s decree subject to the will of man. :( Not a grand thing for even a moderate Calvinist. :)

    Still, I think your basic point/objection is spot on. I mean, regardless if a Calvinist believes that man’s will is not free (or it is), there is a problem for us all (as you indicate) in the synthesis of what the Scriptures call us to do and with a Sovereign who has chosen any act at all from us. The question is simply this: Has God determined our actions in a way that is detrimental to our choice, or has he not?

    Your synthesis of the two concepts (ala, CS Lewis) is certainly possible, but it needs to answer the question of time. Either we are conformed to His will (determined all from distant past) or we make real moral choices that have real moral implications.

    What either side has done on this issue is either sacrifice God’s elective choice, his decrees. Or we have sacrificed Man’s choice in any real, meaningful sense. Your proposal aims to keep both (probably a good thing!)

    However, I would question your premise. If God’s decrees outside of time determine what we will do (in time), then in what way do those choices have any free will to them (something that it seems that you want to maintain). How does that position differ appreciably to what Calvinists say?

    If people freely chose their action and God simply OK’s from an eternal past, how does that grant any sovereign choice to God? Besides, if He is doing this, why does he hold us responsible in time!?

    Michael’s right. It is a Mystery! :)

    There may be…

  14. JJ,

    “The question is simply this: Has God determined our actions in a way that is detrimental to our choice, or has he not?”

    I think I know what you are saying here but isn’t it clear that God in fact does make it harder for some to choose Him than others? If that is so then what God has determined is sometimes detrimental to our choice. I do not see much of a way around it unless we think of God much different than the Christian God of the scriptures.

    CARL

  15. I am what is called an “Infralapsarian”, that God’s plan of salvation for “some” people (the Elect) followed and was a consequence of the fall of man from grace. This of course is opposed to supralapsarian. Most Reformed Creeds come from the infralapsarian position.

    *Btw, it would be nice if more Evangelicals read the Anglican Article XVII, Of Predestination and Election. Simply one of the very finest statements about this grand and profound subject!

  16. JJ,

    Thanks for the kind words.

    Certainly some Calvinist will point out that your position robs God of His sovereignty.

    Yep, that’s what they say to me.

    What I say back is that I didn’t rob God of anything, He handed it to me before I had the wit to ask. And also, once I figured out what I had and where it had come from, I handed it back like a hot potato. :)

    The real story is a bit more complicated than that, of course, and involves a whole lot of ill-considered self-will and painful consequences, but you get the idea.

    Regarding time and free will, it does appear to be the case that you and I make our choices in Eternity (whatever that is) and work them out here within time. The argument for reason that exists independent of nature occurs in Lewis’ book “Miracles,” and I won’t repeat it here unless you want me to try.

    Trying to imagine existence outside of Time, let alone a concurrent existence both inside and outside of Time, makes my brain hurt and scares me a little. So I think I’ll join you and call it all a mystery. Let’s have some tea.

  17. One should read Augustine’s De natura et gratia, where the term “prevenient grace” originated. And because of the depravity in/a consequence from original sin, is it only thru the enablement of God’s prevenient grace that one has the possibility to “choose properly.” The grace that comes before even human action…again God’s power & enablement!

  18. Hello Carl,

    You write–
    “Isn’t it clear that God in fact does make it harder for some to choose Him than others? If that is so then what God has determined is sometimes detrimental to our choice.”

    Boy, I feel kind of stupid here, Carl. I am thinking about what you wrote, and I am drawing a blank as to why I would accept that premise (that God makes it more difficult for some to choose Him).

    Seems to me that statement is fraught with problems. What does it mean to be “more difficult.” Does that mean that some believe but through greater hardship? If so, perhaps that is exactly what God needed to provide to help that person believe. If, on the other hand, your statement means something like, “God has prevented belief for some” then you are simply taking the position that God indeed violates our choice. That may not be a wrong position, but that is the position that some (many?) Calvinists already take. And certainly not the position that Philwynk was taking.

    I guess my thought is that we don’t have to assume that God violates the moral choices of man in his election process. But, hey, it is a mystery… the reason it got listed here. There is no easy solution. It seems that both extremes are likely to discount some Scripture some place.

    Still, there is one intriguing description of this that I think may make sense of what Philwynk might be thinking about, if I am reading him correctly. I will suggest it in the response to him.

  19. Philwynk wrote –
    Let’s have some tea.

    Indeed. But let’s make it a Luther Latte! :)

    In regards to your earlier post, you seemed to indicate that the things we do in time were the things that God decreed in someplace outside of time. :) Yep, my head hurts too!

    If that is basically your thought, I didn’t want to pick it to death (gee, it is hard enough to grasp the concepts when we are creatures in time and operate on the assumption that our choices matter… so don’t take any of this as a severe critique.

    What I wondered if there was a way to understand that idea in terms that may make more sense in our world (see below for my suggestion).

    First, I should say that my goal is to maintain fully that God’s choice (his election or his determined decrees) is soveriegn. And also that man’s moral choices are indeed his own (they are not coerced).

    So, how can that be? :) This example may not be of help, but I will offer it as a possible real world example of how the two might not be in conflict.

    Consider a choice you made. I think it helps if you think of a silly decision so that you don’t offer objections for the sake of morality. Something like the type of socks I wore today. Or the choice I made to have coffee instead of tea.

    While some would deny the concept that this choice was free. And in a sense, all decisions have precursors to them that tend to favor one choice over another. I agree (but not my point). But, for the sake of our discussion, I think most people would say, “Yep, JJ, that choice was made more or less freely.”

    Now, put that choice in the past (we are placing the TIME element into the equation). Was that choice any less free now that it is past?

    Most would say that history (past events) is determined. It doesn’t change. What if God’s decrees (determinism) effects man’s choice in a similiar way, since God is outside of time? Most don’t have a problem with history being determined, what…

  20. …then what about “future” history? If we don’t have a problem maintaining that past history can be totally determined (what would be more determined than history!?) and still man makes those choices (more or less) freely, then should it not be equally plausible that future history can be determined without violating our choices along the way???

  21. Bill Mayor writes:

    [quote]Suppose that we allow the scientific disciplines to help enlighten our understandings of the Bible and theology, rather than relying on prescientific philosophies to guide us, as they have been proven wrong time and again in laboratoroes. Might not this approach resolve some of these supposed mysteries, even as it left others unfathomable?[/quote]

    OK. Go ahead and choose one of the five mysteries posted in this entry (preferably one of the first four, as I am not a Calvinist) and show us how science solves that mystery.

  22. JJ wrote:

    In regards to your earlier post, you seemed to indicate that the things we do in time were the things that God decreed in someplace outside of time.

    Actually, what I think is that we choose “God” or “not God” outside of time, then God decrees the specifics of how that looks within time to conform to our choice. I do think that God has granted man the power to choose his own end, and does not take it back. I do not see how that robs God of His sovereignty, any more than a king granting a choice of fiefdoms to a young knight robs the king of his kingship.

    The details of what we choose are beyond me. However, I recall noticing when I was a young believer that there seemed to be “decision points” in my life where I had to choose obedience or disobedience, and once I’d made the choice at that moment, what happened for the next N years seemed to be more or less like skiing down a mountainside — lots of variety, maybe some ability to steer in the moment, but all pretty much determined by the earlier choice. I used to pray that God would give me the wisdom to choose properly in my “Chooser,” not really knowing what that was — but I always had the sense that while God would do many things to persuade me, in the end I was the one who had to choose.

    And in real terms, what He seems to want from me is surrender. My life these days consists in learning how best to surrender my will completely so it’s His. Call me a mystic.

    The Molinists seem to want to place God within Time, even though He created it. That makes my brain hurt even worse, but probably just because I didn’t think of it that way at first. My notion has been to look at time like a model train running on a track. God is the modeler standing beside the track. He has access to all points at any moment, while we’re consigned to run along the track in a single direction.

    And, I look at history like the roof joists on a prefab building: God drops the…

  23. (cont.) entire, completed set of joists onto the frame in one motion. The whole of history is already played out, in precisely the manner you described (I actually agreed with pretty much all of your last post). That’s how He “knows” what is going to happen at any point, and can inform prophets and such: He’s actually been there already, while we’re just progressing along a track and can’t see ahead.

    So, what does that make me? An overly-complicated Molinist? A reluctant Calvinist? A pure Arminian? I’d still like someone more familiar with the debate (which I try to avoid) to help me define what my position is called.

    Coffee it is. I’ll take mine with cream and no sugar, and as strong as you can make it.

  24. As you have articulated philwynk, I don’t think you are a Molinist, but a Compatibilist (some Calvinists are compatiblists), i.e. Determinism and ‘Free-Will’ are compatible.

    Molinism affirms libertarian free-will and God’s omniscience. He knows what each individual will freely choose in each and every circumstance that He places that individual in (middle knowledge). God’s middle knowledge is a feature of His omniscience, in that He knows these counterfactuals before He creates the individual. So, for example, God knew you philwynk, before He created this world, and before you were created. He knows all the decisions you are ever going to make. However, the focus of God’s foreknowledge and middle knowledge is His omniscience.

    “My notion has been to look at time like a model train running on a track. God is the modeler standing beside the track. He has access to all points at any moment, while we’re consigned to run along the track in a single direction. … The whole of history is already played out … That’s how He “knows” what is going to happen at any point”

    This is the B-theory or static theory of time. Another analogy is like a movie reel where all history can be located at fixed points along the movie reel. It implies determinism or fatalism.

  25. God’s middle knowledge is based solely on His omniscience. Sans creation, God is timeless. At the point of creation of time, He is related temporally to the world. The A-theory or dynamic theory of time is likely to be the more accurate understanding of time (see Time and Eternity, WL Craig). God’s foreknowledge and middle knowledge allows Him to decide who, when and what will be the instruments of His sovereign decree. By His omnipotence, He will create the world and orchestrate when and where people will live (Acts 17:26b). God’s intimate knowledge of each individual (Psalm 139:1-4), including middle knowledge allows Him to place the right people in the right place at the right time to fulfil His sovereign decree.

    There is no need to invoke B-theory of time to account for His middle knowledge. One does not need to invoke His omnipotence to explain His omniscience. God’s middle knowledge is a feature of God’s omniscience. Bill Craig explains middle knowledge clearly, e.g. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/molinism-and-free-will; You can search for other relevant articles on his website.

  26. fishing wrote:

    I don’t think you are a Molinist, but a Compatibilist (some Calvinists are compatiblists), i.e. Determinism and ‘Free-Will’ are compatible.

    Thanks. I will do a little research about these terms, and also about A-theory and B-theory. I’ve heard the terms before but not grasped what they were addressing.

    fishing also wrote:

    At the point of creation of time, He is related temporally to the world.

    This sounds incomplete to me. Rather, at all points in time, God is related temporally to the world. He is equally present in all moments, not just the moment of creation of time.

    Have we just said the same thing in two different ways?

  27. “He is equally present in all moments, not just the moment of creation of time.”

    Yes I agree, because God is eternal, i.e. everlasting.
    Sans creation, God is timeless. When He created the world, He is “in time” with the world. See http://www.reasonablefaith.org/god-time-and-eternity-2.

    God bless you brother.

  28. Correction:
    Since the creation of the world, God is “in time” with the world

  29. Here’s a bit of a quote from Thomas Aquinas:

    “If in predestination one considers the act of predetermining, the predestination of Christ is not the cause of our predestination. For God predestined him and us in one and the same act. But if one considers the end and object of predestination, the predestination of Christ is the same as ours. [Note Barth here] For God has ordained from all eternity that our salvation should be brought about by Jesus Christ. For eternal predestination involves not merely that which is come about in time, but also the manner and order according to which this is to taks place in time.” (Summa Theo., III, q. 24, a.4).

    The latter of “manner and order” is sorely missed by Louis de Molina, and Molinism. Btw, Catholic Dominican’s, Thomistic theologians, and of course Augustinian’s reject this. With Molina grace, either sufficient or efficacious, does not differ before we give our consent. And of course for the other views, grace is always only an “efficacious” grace, when we are “called”, which determinines my will, and can move me forward. Note here, a Blaise Pascal! And too here btw, one simply must read both Pascal’s, “Pensees” and “The Provincial Letters”. And also, Pascal is certainly in the “Mystical” tradition, as Augustine (The Confessions, etc.)

    Finally, I thought myself that John Frame’s book: No Other God, A Response To Open Theism, to be a hammer blow, here!

  30. I sometimes wonder (but rarely out loud) if I might approach these “truths in eternal tension” like they are a kind of test to see if I have what it takes, as though holding onto them without question, like a good soldier, is the price I have to pay to keep my ticket to heaven. I am afraid to examine the logical tenableness of such historical constructs as the trinity because of where such serious questioning might lead, or in the end, might leave me.

    I hesitate to openly evaluate or rethink the great mysteries of the christian faith in light of what has been learned (or unlearned) over the past 2000 years because to do so might threaten the foundations upon which my religion stands, and with it my hope. I understand this but I also believe that we can, and must, pursue the truth in God, ask the hard questions, refuse to say it’s “ok” when it does not make sense, no matter how threatening the outcome may seem.

    To do so takes confidence that our relationship with God is secure and does not depend on anything other than a sovereign, loving, merciful, and faithful God’s commitment to receive me and see me through to the end, confusion, questions, doubts, and all, that our religion is not man made and is built on unshakeable foundations, and like any pure thing more light, rather than exposing cracks and weakness, reveals true beauty and perfection.

  31. @Brian: I have found the only “cracks” to be in me, one of my favorite verses here is St. Paul’s 2 Cor. 4:7, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves.” Btw, the metaphor of the “soldier” is certainly good and Pauline! (1 Tim. 6: 12 / 2 Tim. 4:7) :)

  32. Clark,

    You seem to have missed that philwynk has decreed that I know nothing of either science or theology. Now I have several professors at various seminaries and universities you might disagree , but that is beside the point.

    However, before I venture in to explain how some of these “mysteries” vanish, might I inquire as to just how many of your assumptions you are willing to set aside?

    In a post on another board they are discussing the Trinity, and I have noted that the “Transcendant” Trinity is a statement about the ontological nature of God based on specific understandings of certain passages. However, that this is true is an assumption, not a fact. The “Economic” Trinity is just as well supported by these passages but does not make the same ontological statements. It merely recognizes that God appears to us in these three forms and that we do not truly know anything about His essential nature other than what He has clearly stated is true. This excludes statements by men about His essential nature though.

  33. Btw, on the Trinity of God, simply one of the best so-called modern statements is by the Catholic scholar: Karl Rahner. His little but theologically dense book: The Trinity, is the best statement on the Economic & Immanent Trinity! Indeed the beauty of both “catholic” and “reformed” theology is to rethink and restate (somewhat), the essential truths in a contemporary idiom while staying in the continuity of and with the biblical and thelogical tradition of the Ecumenical Councils and Creeds. Sadly, the latter is where some modern evangelical Christians stray, save some of the Reformed and too Lutherans and some conservative Anglicans. Here too, the EO and Rome still have some great people and scholars, etc.

  34. But I guess the mystery of election does have a purpose. If you ever needed any proof of “limited atonement”, look at reality television or even the newspapers. When I hear a story about a scum-of-the-earth strip club owner who wanted to hire some Mexican hitmen to kill the mayor of Arlington and a Dallas lawyer, “reprobate” comes to mind. When I see the loathsome idiots and cretins on the “Jersey Shore” and “Toddlers and Tiaras”, I think that surely Jesus did not want to save those horrible people. He came to save the men and women with a modicum of intelligence and enough decency to know that assassinating government officials is not a good idea.

    Another example is when I’m walking home from a gym after a good workout and I see a 300+ pound blob of a man walking by. It makes me remember why I chose to lose that weight in the first place. Will I ever have the kind of body that a pro athlete would? Unfortunately, no. But if I keep following my diet and working out five days a week, I can look down on morbidly obese people and not feel a sense of hypocrisy. The same is true of salvation.

  35. Funny, I am one of those Reformed Anglicans that does not see the Atonement (as I see in Calvin too), in a quantitative, but rather qualitative manner. The Death of Christ is certainly Sufficient to save everyone, but it is only Efficient or efficacious, to save the Elect! This appears only too theologically obvious in the depth of this fallen, broken world! John 3:16, is “whosoever will”, and only those who “believe” unto salvation, are really redeemed, and made redemptive! Another amazing “mystery”!

  36. Darryl,

    I could not disagree with you more.

    In the first place, the people you despise are the very people Jesus does, in fact, want to redeem. The guys that hired those hit men? Yes, that was disgusting. But I’ve heard testimonies of guys who did as bad or worse, and Jesus reached into their filth and redeemed them.

    The Jersey Shore gang? “Shallow” does not even begin to describe them. And yet, why would you think that the sin of vanity they are committing is so much worse than other sins? Yes, I’ve met “pretty” people whom God reached and changed. He loves them as much as He loves us.

    As to the morbidly obese, I’ve had that thought at times, and a couple of them, God made a point of showing me how much BETTER those “morbidly obese” people I was despising were than I was!

    That was the point of Jesus eating at the homes of tax collectors, who were viewed more or less like the Nazi collaborators were viewed by the ghetto Jews during WWII.

    And in the second place, the sin you are committing by thinking yourself better than they, which is pride, is in Christian terms a far worse sin than any of those you named. If God truly wanted nothing to do with any of them, He would also want nothing to do with you.

    However, the good news is that He does want something — everything, really — to do with both you and them, despite your sins.

    You will not be ready to serve God until you’re ready to admit that your notion of yourself, that you’re not all that bad a guy, is a delusion. None of us earned His favor. We’re all scumbags saved by grace.

  37. The Parable of the Pharisee and the publican! (Luke 18:10-14)

  38. And what about God making the decision as to where we would be born? I have a book on the Christian faith which used this symbol for the Resurrection of Jesus, a red circular “sun” against a white field.

    https://www.furaffinity.net/view/7841683/

    Do you think that the people born under that flag have as much an opportunity to benefit from the Resurrection of Jesus as we here in the United States of America do? Just thinking about how many cultural, lingustic, and geographical barriers must be crossed to reach the people of Nippon makes me realize how lucky I am to be born in America.

    I think that being born to Protestant parents in a country like the United States is definitely a plus if our ultimate goal is salvation.

  39. Well, Darryl, first of all, our ultimate goal is not salvation, it is conformity to the will of God. Salvation is a byproduct, not the goal.

    Secondly, equality is not important to God, so I’m not sure why it’s important to you and me. You don’t need to consider nations, just consider how different you are physically from the nearest person to you. One is fast, another tall, another intelligent, and so forth. We’re not all called to the same thing. That is painfully obvious.

    However, we are all responsible for what God has put in our hands, and we are all responsible to do good with what we know. God holds us accountable for what we have, not for what we don’t have. He holds us accountable for what we know, not for what we don’t know. Do you really think God doesn’t hold your Japanese friends to a different standard than He holds you to, with your Protestant upbringing? Jesus Himself said we were only accountable for what we know (see Luke 12:48). So did Paul (see Romans 2:14-16).

    See, I think you’ve judged God harshly, but you’ve done it based on a warped model of who He is. You would have done better to stick around and learn better who He is before you judged.

    Finally, I think everybody has an opportunity to benefit from the cross, whether they’ve heard of it or not. As I said at the beginning of this conversation, God reveals Himself to everybody; that’s the point of creation. To those who respond positively to His self-revelation, He gives more. Evangelists all the time are reporting finding people who have already discovered God’s revelation for themselves; if you want to read about it, pick up Don Richardson’s fine book, “Eternity In Their Hearts.” God’s a lot more active around the globe than you think He is.

  40. But then there comes a time when you have to ask yourself- why was I born in this country and at this point in history rather than another time and another place. If we had lucked out, we could have been born right as the events of the Bible were unfolding. Against the howling and idolatrous mob, we could have been the bodyguards and students of God’s prophets. If we could have gathered on the shores of Lake Galilee and heard Jesus himself speak or seen the miracles described in the Book of Acts, our beliefs would obviously be much stronger than what these apostate churches are preaching today.

    I’m probably not the first to look at Biblical history and think I could have been a heroic servant to a prophet of the Most High, but I would like to think so. But at least we still have the Gospel written in our own language, which is something that people from other countries don’t have. And since God will hold them accountable for not hearing the Gospel, it is something we should be thankful for that we have it.

    And if it is the Gospel and not “election” that saves, we should begin translating the Bible to the unreached people groups as quickly as possible, assuming we do care about them. But if it’s “election” that saves, and not the Gospel, then we should let those unreached people groups die, because there is nothing we could do to save them anyway.

  41. Darryl, do you not think that God is capable of determining if someone is seeking Him regardless of whether or not that individual has access to some specific book? The scriptures tell us that those who seek Christ will find Him. The do not state that only those who are born under a specific set of circumstances will ever find Christ.

    Actually I seem to remember some passage about people who say “Lord, Lord” and do not get into heaven while people who claim never to have known Jesus get in. I wonder if those who called “Lord, Lord” had access to the writings, while those who claimed not to know Him did not have such access.

  42. The Gospel of the Grace of God In Christ, surely posits the doctrine of God’s calling and election or choice, and thus God’s preservation of the believer or saint (Jude 1:1 ; 24-25 / 1 Pet. 1:2 / Rom. 8: 28-39). But of course we must certainly persevere in the doctrine of grace, itself ‘In Christ’.

  43. If “election” saves people, then the Gospel serves no real use, because it would only save those who were elect already. The evangelist has no real reason to exist and we would have no reason NOT to turn to a life of hedonism or despair over our fates.

    But if the Gospel saves people, then that means more new people are being inducted into the Lamb’s Book of Life with every passing day. New believers are being told to trust in Jesus for their salvation and then after their names are added, then they tell others living in places near and far, and more names are added. And they’ll tell new people, as well.

    Generally, Calvinists think that God wants to minimize the number of people in heaven by predetermining them to hell and taking pleasure in doing so. Non-Calvinists think that God wants to maximize the number of people in heaven by giving them a real opportunity to believe in Jesus Christ, and that he does not take pleasure in their refusal to accept the grace handed them. The decision to believe in Calvin or not believe in Calvin is a decision between a hate-filled God and a loving God.

  44. Bill Mayor: I am happy to discuss whatever you want to discuss about these mysteries.

  45. Clark,

    Then let us start by looking at Romans 1:20 where we are assured that all that may be known about God is knowable from nature. This implies that anything not knowable from nature, no matter how well scripture seems to support it, is not correct.

    Now in Hebrews we learn that everything that is visible was made from that which is not visible. This fits perfectly with modern science and the Big Bang theory. It does not require creation ex nihilo. In fact, since it refers to that which is not visible, it actually contradicts creation ex nihilo.

    Now the Big Bang theory requires a point of virtually infinite POTENTIAL energy as a starting point. However, such a thing would not be visible because of it being too small for one thing, and for another because of a virtually total absence of light. While Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle precludes perfect darkness, it does not preclude darkness broken by no more than a single photon a millenium. Something was present prior to our current universe, whether we look at it from science or scripture, the unseeable was present.

  46. As truely as we see in Salvation history and Reformed theology, Calvin is concerned to affirm that knowledge of ourselves principally means the knowledge of our sins. “But the knowledge of ourselves consists, first, in considering what was given to us at our creation, and how God sweetly continues His grace towards us, that we may know how excellent had been our nature, if it had remained whole; yet at the same time thinking, that nothing that we have is of our own, but is conferred upon us by God for us to hold precariously, so that we may depend upon Him.” (Calvin, Inst. II, 1.1.)

    Indeed humanity is always in both the First Adam and the Last Adam.. Christ! And only the latter is in the redemptive grace & glory of God In Christ!

  47. “Then let us start by looking at Romans 1:20 where we are assured that all that may be known about God is knowable from nature. This implies that anything not knowable from nature, no matter how well scripture seems to support it, is not correct.”

    I think you mean Romans 1:19 even more than 1:20. Reading 1:18 – 1:20 in context of the entire argument of the first two chapters of Romans, we can see that Paul says that everyone should believe in the existence and the divine power of God as Creator, because they can see his creation. Romans 1:20 only says that everyone can know his “eternal power and divine nature” among his “invisible attributes.” This is a minimal but important knowledge: that God exists and is powerful and is the Creator.

    Romans 1:19 says that “what can be known about God is plain to them [i.e. the unrighteous mentioned in 1:18], because God has shown it to them.” Followed by 1:20, we see how God showed it to them: through his creation.

    You are reading “what can be known about God” as if it means “everything that can be known about God.” The word “what” has a context in these verses: only knowing that God exists and that He is the Creator is argued by Paul in this passage. Many attributes of God are revealed in scripture, which is why the study of scripture is recommended in several places in scripture.

    Caution must be exercised when trying to interpret language that might seem absolute at a glance. The language always has a context, whether it be narrative, argument, poetry, or even the mindset of the audience being addressed by the writing. Generally, the scope and degree of the language is limited by the context. Luke 2:1: “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” How many Mongolians got counted in that census? Native Americans? Pacific Islanders? Japanese?

  48. “Now in Hebrews we learn that everything that is visible was made from that which is not visible.”

    This seems to be a reference to Hebrews 11:3. There seems to be a translation issue here. Almost all reasonably literal translations read some form of “not made from that which is visible.” KJV; NKJV; ASV; ESV. A minority read some form of “made from that which is not visible.” NRSV; HCSB. I don’t know enough Greek to say where the word “not” should be placed.

    The first rendering in completely compatible with creation ex nihilo. But I doubt that I want to build any creation doctrine out of this one verse. Someone needs to convince me that it is a slam dunk case that one group of translations is correct and the other is incorrect.

    Trying to piece together a tenuous interpretation of Romans 1:18-20 with a debatable translation of Hebrews 11:3 to create a new doctrine, or mystery, or problem seems unwise.

  49. All of Holy Scripture and Revelation is really “mystery”, (1 Tim. 3:16). And, “creatio ex nihilo” is an important philosophical & theolgoical construct, since it denies any active role in creation to the materials from which the world was made. But, Creatio or creation can also be distingushed into two stages, (1) creatio prima, the first creation, corresponding to Gen. 1: 1-2, during which God drew out nothing the materia prima or materia inhabilis, the primary or unformed matter; and (2) creatio secunda, according to which God produced individual beings by imparting form and life to the materia prima. Btw, Lutherans and the Reformed agree in calling the entire work of creation a free act of God resting solely on the goodness of the divine will. And for the Reformed the consequence of the creation is a necessity since the divine act of creation does result from the eternal and immutable decree of God!

  50. Btw, no “Theistic Evolution” here! ;) One can jump there, but that is certainly not in the “Text” itself!

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